Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why LeBron James Will Never Be Better Than Michael Jordan

The legacy of Michael Jordan, who turned 50 on Sunday, is beyond extraordinary and indefinable. For the rest of the weekend, he will be showered with birthday-wishes from former NBA players and legends, and he will be glorified and greatly remembered for revolutionizing the game of basketball.

The fans of the 90s were fortunate to embrace the life of Air Jordan: the greatest NBA player of all-time, the most unstoppable assassin of all-time, the smartest marketer of all-time, the savviest shoe salesman of all-time.

But now, we’re obligated to compare LeBron James to Jordan, the only player to ever consolidate an indescribable legacy that no one else will ever match. When he dominated, won six championships, five MVPs and 10 scoring titles, Jordan lit up on the court.

For now — at least — he stands alone and remains the greatest to ever step foot onto a hardwood floor, captivating spectators with his infamous tongue that stuck out while he slashed to the basket, floated through the air and levitated at the rim.

He stepped onto the court and dazzled our hearts in critical moments, taking over a game single-handedly to form a dynasty in Chicago, a city that has lauded the former Bulls megastar as a messiah.

It would be premature, not to mention a shame, to describe James as the next Jordan — legend and hero evermore — certainly when some believe James lost his claim to all-time greatness after bailing on Cleveland to form the Superteam in Miami.

Jordan was unmatched, never to be reproduced, a prolific scorer and a superstar whose spectacles were compelling. If James continues to thrive, amass championship wins and make his home in Miami, he can reach a crescendo and rise to grandeur.

But even if he does win seven titles, James won’t ever surpass MJ, not in the modern era of basketball, not in an era when the league is built around an influx of new talent and superstars, such as Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

For one, James fled Cleveland, settled in South Beach and grew into his role, becoming the team’s No. 1 scorer after joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. For another, he’s the most hated pro athlete since “The Decision” telecast when he announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach.

James abruptly left his native home to play for the Miami Heat, and was bashed and despised by Cleveland fans and critics all over. When Jordan was an instrumental part of the Bulls success, LeBron was essentially culpable for the Cavaliers languishing, for Cleveland’s economy deflating as businesses took a drastic hit after he left, especially in the first season without their King.

While some don’t care for James, some will actually get over his narcissistic infomercial. It’s unfortunate James won’t ever earn adulation like Jordan after his distasteful and immoral decision to walk out on a city that welcomed, admired, empowered and immortalized him.

It’s unfathomable fans won’t ever succumb to reality and put aside all bitterness after James led the Heat to an NBA title a year ago and vindicated humility, grace and class, regretting his selfish act that turned into a public relations disaster.

So now he’s loved or loathed, praised or criticized while everybody adores MJ, even when he has a reputation of being cocky and egocentric. More telling was what he accomplished on the court, not off the court — where he had gambling problems and wasn’t always too compassionate about sharing or donating his wealth to unprivileged children.

But more telling than his psyche was his reversed layups, windmill or vicious dunks in an era when he reigned supreme. We used to gather by the TV regularly during NBA season, delighted to watch Jordan play but not everyone braces him or herself for James whenever Heat games are nationally televised.

Unlike Jordan, some viewers are filled with anger and hate, not over the fact that he brought more hype on himself by manipulating ESPN into airing a one-hour TV special. Of course, he’s a good player but not the most likable person, and if anything, he’s not the next Jordan.

When he played ball, Jordan was the face of the NBA, a symbol of the sport, compelling enough to keep us all begging for more and persuaded us to watch, as fans became addicted to the world-famous star. The legacy Jordan left is unparalleled, never to be breakable but to forever remain intact for which no other player, including LeBron will ever reach a plateau as superlative as Jordan.

There’s little question, though he’s delivered jaw-dropping performances, that he must continue to win championships to rank among the best in NBA history. Right now, as it stands, he does not fit alongside Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Larry Bird.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on James in this age, to see if he can transform the landscape of pro basketball just as Jordan did during his tenure as a tremendous superstar.

The reality of this game is that a player is usually defined by the number of championships they win, but over the years we’ve still paid our profound respect to Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins, Pete Maravich and George Gervin.

It has been a frenzied week, and the noise revolves around the endless debates as to whether Bryant is better than James or whether James is better than Bryant. Jordan is the talk of the weekend as well, and as the legend should be, he’s celebrated like royalty — and rightfully so — he deserves all the plaudits in the world.

He’s worked and earned it, and damn right, Jordan warrants it. The most noticeable star of the 1992 Dream Team would be Jordan, and as we all know, he’s made shots and slammed down signature dunks that made highlight reels to separate him from other players.

The tough-driven, unstoppable Bulls were fortunate to have a player as unthinkably great as Jordan, and turned out to be a popular and eventful team with Michael’s presence, with just about every game nationally televised.

Jordan, unlike most players, was a national event, just as his legacy is a national conversation. It’s probably OK to note that James has remarkably a crafty all-around game, and less than a year ago as a member of the Heat, he claimed his first NBA championship ring and flaunts it proudly after putting in the hours and hard work.

The number of championships keeps him off the list of NBA legends, but no matter what he does during a relentless career, he won’t ever match Jordan, who is the most decorated player in the history of the NBA.

That’s because Jordan is his own player and sustained greatness in a different era and won titles with a less talented supporting cast. As for James, he won his with Wade and Bosh, two NBA stars who all agreed to team up for championships.

For those who don’t remember or was an 80s baby, Jordan averaged 37 points per game in the 1986-87 season. There’s no doubt, like Jordan, that James will be in the Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt, like Jordan, he will be honored for individual accolades.

He’s a three-time MVP and became the first player in NBA history to score more than 30 points while shooting 60 percent for six straight games. This season alone, he’s averaging 27. 3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, while shooting a staggering 56.5-percent.

But it couldn’t be more obvious that Jordan worn down bodies, beat his opponents, broke ankles, drove to the lane and finished at the rim with his competitive nature and basketball brilliance. There was no stopping Jordan, not even when he was suffering from flu-like symptoms, scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 97 NBA Finals.

That night, he was exhausted, sick and weak, but somehow he led the Bulls to a pivotal win against the Utah Jazz. Jordan is known for “The Shot,” a game-winning shot he hit over Craig Ehlo in 89 when he was in his prime. The truth about James is that he’s marveled in a generation of glamorous stars and truly is growing into a South Beach icon, becoming gradually a global superstar.

It is to his credit that he’s accepted the leadership role in Miami and has become more than just a playmaker after not scoring and taking over late in the game during pressure situations. But he’s never earned 10 triple-doubles in 11 games, and in the game today, it just seems rare — could be done, but very rare in the modern era.

That happened when Jordan played. He had 10 triple-doubles in 11 games, something no one else has ever done, not even Bryant. No player can score 40 points, dish out 11 assists and grab 7 rebounds in the second of back-to-back games against the Detroit Pistons. Jordan, to be quite honest, retired as the greatest in NBA history.

It’s an understatement if one thinks differently about Jordan, who was a more efficient scorer than James and Bryant. If he stays healthy, with a skill set as identical to Jordan’s, James can monopolize his era and win multiple championships. But for now, and maybe not ever, you can’t compare James to Jordan. It’s inconceivable but it seems logical when James could be as solid as Jordan.

The ultimate birthday present for Jordan, if anything, is what he’s attained to become the greatest NBA legend to ever live.